K6 & HAMSMaRT Weekly Newsletter no. 6
April 27, 2020
Dear HAMSMaRT and Keeping Six Supporters,
Since the last newsletter, we marked one month of local COVID-19 pandemic precautions and HAMSMaRT-Keeping Six joint outreach and response. We are heartened to see this community grow as we stand with our neighbours to support the dignity of every person in Hamilton. Read the bolded sentences below to get the main points.
We have an active roster of volunteers baking cookies, decorating brown paper bags, going on outreach, and staffing the rest and hygiene at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church downtown. We are looking for someone to go shopping for essential supplies this week (using generously donated funds). We will be sending out the May volunteer schedule this week to everyone who has signed up to volunteer. If you can do the shopping this week, email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are not already registered as a volunteer and want to join the volunteer crew for the May schedule, sign up here https://keepingsix.org/volunteer.
We are still collecting donations – cash is useful so we can buy items people need, as well as donations of cell phones, tablets, tents, sleeping bags, fleece blankets, tarps, and individually packaged water bottles or soft drinks or juice. To donate camping equipment email email@example.com. To donate electronics or phones email firstname.lastname@example.org. To donate beverages email email@example.com.
Outreach happened as planned three times this past week, with more than 700 lunches distributed along with over 700 home baked goods, art supplies, essentials, and harm reduction supplies for people who use drugs. We are applying for some funding from Hamilton Community Foundation and the City of Hamilton to expand our outreach to deliver 900 lunches plus other essential supplies per week – fingers crossed! We are starting to hear more about changes to the drug supply in terms of decreased availability, increased cost, and increased toxicity; and both hearing and seeing less availability of naloxone. We have confirmed the heartbreaking news that there have been overdose deaths in Hamilton in the last week where naloxone was not available. Making naloxone more available will be a focus of our efforts in the next few weeks. We are pleased to be working with a new community partner, New Vision United Church, to support them in opening a second resting and hygiene centre.
We are happy to be partnering with researchers from the Department of Family Medicine at McMaster University on an arts-based research project looking at how COVID-19 and pandemic precautions have impacted people who are homeless and people who use drugs. We know that there will be a ton of medical evidence generated on COVID-19 with respect to clinical care and public health. We want to ensure that the social impact of the pandemic is also captured. We are planning for an art show (when physical distancing measures are lifted) at the end of the project, and will share details with everyone when that happens. We are so pleased with this partnership, which expands on our existing arts programming and will give us the opportunity to share the artistry and creativity of our community with a wider audience.
And finally a note on our connection to other struggles. You may have heard people talk about the “public health crisis within a public health crisis” referring to the COVID-19 pandemic intersecting with the pre-existing opioid overdose death crisis. This is at the heart of our response to COVID-19. Over 14000 people have died of an opioid-related overdose in Canada since January 2016. Given the overdose deaths we have become aware of this week, we wanted to highlight this issue. Here is what we are hearing on outreach and from our patients: the border shutdowns and physical distancing measures mean the drug supply is becoming more unreliable, harder to obtain, and more expensive; naloxone is harder to obtain and people are worried about contracting COVID-19 if they respond to an overdose; services, including the consumption and treatment site, can see fewer people at a time; some services are shut down altogether; there are fewer ways to make money as bottle return locations and hours are more limited and there are fewer people out in public; when people die of overdose or other poverty-related harms, we cannot come together to mourn and grieve like we used to; there are fewer people in public so the attention of police is firmly trained on those still in public with nowhere else to go; people who have to go to the pharmacy to get daily carries of opioid agonist treatment worry about increased exposure to COVID-19; people who use street drugs may have other underlying health conditions that make them more at risk for severe COVID-19 illness; the list goes on. We are heartened by the response of Dr Bonnie Henry, the Provincial Health Officer for British Columbia, and by the Risk Mitigation in the Context of Dual Public Health Emergencies guidance from the BC Centre on Substance Use, endorsed by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC and the BC Ministry of Health. We encourage the many health workers who receive this newsletter to consider what actions we should be taking collectively and as individual prescribers to address these intersecting crises here in Ontario. To learn more, we encourage you to read this piece in the BC Medical Journal by Guy Felicella and Dr Rupi Brar, MD, CCFP(AM), and or this piece by Dr Nora Volkow, MD, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse in the US.
ACTIONS YOU CAN TAKE THIS WEEK:
VOLUNTEER to decorate brown paper bags for outreach lunches, bake sweet treats, go on outreach, shop for supplies, or help staff rest and hygiene stations, by signing up here: https://keepingsix.org/volunteer.
DONATE CASH (or ask people in your network to donate) https://keepingsix.org/support/.
DONATE LIKE-NEW/EXCELLENT CONDITION TENTS, SLEEPING BAGS, FLEECE BLANKETS, OR TARPS by emailing us firstname.lastname@example.org.
DONATE WORKING ELECTRONICS As we anticipate the need to isolate in the shelter population, electronics for telemedicine consults and staving off boredom are needed. If you have an old, working laptop, tablet, smartphone, or flip phone please be in touch at email@example.com to make arrangements for drop off or pick up.
DONATE JUICE BOXES OR CANS OF POP These are a highly requested item for the outreach lunches, please be in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org to make arrangements for drop off or pick up.
CONTACT YOUR CITY COUNCILLOR To ask them about what they are doing to support people who are homeless and people who use drugs, and request they stop the ticketing of people who are homeless and instead focus the city’s efforts on providing them with adequate shelter, food, and services.
AMPLIFY our messages on twitter @HAMSMaRTeam and @keepingsix and by forwarding this email, so that decision makers LISTEN to people who are homeless and/or who use drugs about what they need right now.
Organizers from Keeping Six and HAMSMaRT